Looking for a place to call home

After leav­ing City Hall when the Oc­cupy Philly camp came to an end, some home­less in­di­vidu­als have found a home with the Nu-Look min­istry — it’s un­der the Betsy Ross Bridge.

It might not look like much to an out­sider, but to the few that call it home, a small camp un­der the Betsy Ross Bridge in Brides­burg is more than a tran­si­ent home — it rep­res­ents free­dom and in­de­pend­ence.

The camp, which home­less ad­voc­ate Har­vey Lock­ridge says is part of what he calls his “Nu-Look Min­istry,” has been in place for four months.

The mem­bers are ba­sic­ally those who re­mained after “Camp Liberty,” the home­less camp that popped up un­der I-95 in Port Rich­mond, was shuttered. That camp took shape just after the Oc­cupy Philly move­ment — part of the na­tion­al protest against so-called cor­por­ate and Wall Street greed — broke down dur­ing late fall as city of­fi­cials moved demon­strat­ors from sites around City Hall.

On a sunny Thursday af­ter­noon last week, Lock­ridge walked down the dirt path to his Brides­burg camp, not far from Rich­mond and Lewis streets, while mak­ing his way through high fo­liage — all of it on city-owned prop­erty.

He de­scribed the place as a min­istry that wants to help mem­bers turn their lives around. Though the camp no longer is part of Oc­cupy Philly — “I told every­body we didn’t as­so­ci­ate with Oc­cupy,” said Lock­ridge — he ac­know­ledges that it did help give a voice to the city’s home­less pop­u­la­tion.

But he must take the next steps, he said, on his own.

“I’m a branch from that tree,” he said, re­fer­ring to the Oc­cupy protest. “They gave me a start.”

Lock­ridge says he’s a li­censed min­is­ter - though not here, but in Ok­lahoma, where he’s from ori­gin­ally. His min­istry has goals that dif­fer from those of the Oc­cupy move­ment, he said. Rather than make the plight of the home­less a vis­ible thing, the camp is hid­den away to al­low the oc­cu­pants — a ro­tat­ing group of five or six people, but some­times as many as 10 — to have a sanc­tu­ary away from the “hustle and bustle” of the city, Lock­ridge ex­plained.

“In Phil­adelphia, home­less people have noth­ing … here they have a chance to find them­selves,” said Lock­ridge. “I try to teach them how to save their money … if you’re out pan­hand­ling, you’ll get locked up.”

Ac­tu­ally, the camp is some­what re­min­is­cent of the re­cent Oc­cupy Philly en­camp­ment. A row of about six tents lines the grass abut­ting a fence that sep­ar­ates city-owned land from prop­erty man­aged by the Delaware River Port Au­thor­ity. The man­i­cured grass is stark con­trast to the over­growth that sur­rounds the camp.

Al­though the city-owned land isn’t un­der the jur­is­dic­tion of the DRPA, po­lice of­ficers with the port agency keep a close watch on the camp. The city po­lice de­part­ment has the task of re­spond­ing to any prob­lems there.

In fact, as Lock­ridge provided a tour of the camp last Thursday, DRPA of­ficers stopped for a routine check on the activ­ity. Ac­cord­ing to DRPA of­ficer B. Keister, the camp hasn’t been a prob­lem dur­ing its four-month ex­ist­ence.

“We haven’t seen any activ­ity back there, and we’d be the first to see it. You can see that by how quick we came over when you were back there,” he said to a re­port­er.

At the camp, a small tent fur­nished with dry goods was oc­cu­pied by 43-year-old Robert — who poin­ted to a can of cof­fee grounds and told a re­port­er “just call me cof­fee or something” when asked his last name.

Robert’s fin­gers were dig­ging through a pack of old ci­gar­ette butts. He found one long enough to light, took a slow, thought­ful drag, and was will­ing to dis­cuss why he be­came part of the small com­munity.

ldquo;I be­lieve the best way to get your life right is to isol­ate your­self,” he said.

But why live here in­stead of, say, at one of the city’s many home­less shel­ters?

Robert scoffed at the no­tion. Shel­ters are of­ten full, and the close quar­ters make for un­com­fort­able situ­ations, he said.

“There’s no pri­vacy there,” he reasoned. “It’s men­tal an­guish that you go through. I don’t sleep well at a shel­ter.”

Yet it’s pos­sible that the camp might not be a place to sleep for much longer.

Dur­ing a March 21 meet­ing of the Brides­burg Town Watch, res­id­ents had some prob­lems with the ar­range­ment.

Roughly 50 people were in at­tend­ance, and many seemed fo­cused on the camp’s re­mov­al, con­tend­ing that in­hab­it­ants are vi­ol­at­ing city laws.

On the oth­er hand, there didn’t seem to be much con­cern about one wo­man’s com­ments and the like­li­hood that her son is vi­ol­at­ing city law that reg­u­lates off-road vehicles.

“My son rides them, and that’s fine,” she said, com­plain­ing about the camp be­ing on land near where her son rides his all-ter­rain vehicle il­leg­ally.

Oth­ers at the meet­ing ex­pressed worry that their chil­dren could be at risk when rid­ing off-road vehicles or fish­ing in the area where the home­less camp ex­ists. Also, ru­mors filled the room of an un­der­age, 16-year-old girl pos­sibly liv­ing at the camp.

As it turned out, the next day, a young girl was leav­ing the camp as a re­port­er toured the area. She iden­ti­fied her­self only as “Brit­tany” and swore she was an adult, born in 1994, but then sug­ges­ted that any fur­ther ques­tions should be dis­cussed with her 19-year-old boy­friend.

He was not at the camp. Brit­tany cast aside oth­er ques­tions and left the site.

At the time, Lock­ridge swore she was 18-years-old.

At that Town Watch meet­ing a day earli­er, City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on (D-6th dist.) told the people that he is do­ing all he can to shut­ter the camp.

“The city isn’t go­ing to just say, ‘You’re out,’” Hen­on said. “There are act­iv­ists and oth­er people out there who don’t think like those here in this room.”

Hen­on said he some­times thinks “them squat­ters have more rights than we do.”

After the meet­ing, when asked about that com­ment, Hen­on said that be­cause of oth­er con­cerns — such as men­tal-health is­sues that must be taken in­to con­sid­er­a­tion — any dis­cus­sions about a home­less group can com­plic­ated. Hen­on said he had to cre­ate a “col­lab­or­a­tion with three or four agen­cies” that he is work­ing with to ad­dress the Brides­burg en­camp­ment.

Those agen­cies in­clude Pro­ject H.O.M.E., a high-pro­file ad­vocacy group in the city, he said. As of press­time this week, a Pro­ject H.O.M.E. rep­res­ent­at­ive had not re­turned phone calls to dis­cuss the camp un­der the Betsy Ross Bridge.

Hen­on, mean­while, prom­ised an am­ic­able out­come. “I feel con­fid­ent, in the most pos­it­ive way, that there’s go­ing to be a res­ol­u­tion here,” he said.

Back at the camp, Robert said he knows that its days are numbered.

In fact, on Monday, the Star re­ceived an an­onym­ous tip that the campers had been told to move along by Thursday, March 29.

Lock­ridge said he heard no such thing and con­tac­ted Monday, po­lice in the 15th Dis­trict had heard of no plan to re­move the en­camp­ment.

But that isn’t the point.

In­stead, Robert said, the en­camp­ment has been an ex­ample of a small group of home­less people find­ing a way to sur­vive on their own.

“There’s no solu­tion. There’s no pan­acea. This doesn’t solve the (home­less) prob­lem. But it ad­dresses it,” Robert said. “This camp can­not sur­vive forever. We have to move on even­tu­ally. We have to have a place that we can call home.” ••

Man­aging ed­it­or Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com 


You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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